Thousands and thousands of Kashmiri families are bearing the brunt of large scale trail of death and destruction left behind by the raging flood water, one of the biggest and most ferocious to hit the region in the century. As monsoon progresses flash floods and river water hits different parts of the country breaching embankments, eroding houses, tearing away roads and sometimes even swathes of hillsides, killing hundreds in the course. Last year similar flash floods and landslides had devastated the state of Uttarakhand killing 4,500 people. Every year in Assam flood water and river erosion submerges vast expanse of agricultural fields and villages. Just this year 188 villages were submerged and crops in 25,000 hectares of field were destroyed.
Experts say climate change is the precursor of such weather events increasing their intensity by manifolds. The same was accepted and reiterated by the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
As these disasters are becoming more destructive, preparedness does not mean placing early warning systems and practicing evacuation drills and protocols. Preparedness should start at the fundamental level as to how we plan and develop such fragile ecologies. It should begin with ecosystem management and bridging the gap between sustainability and productivity to ensure development strengthens and doesn’t have any adverse impact in these regions.
For preserving these ecosystems safeguarding the watershed areas is of paramount importance. These drainage areas with vast expands of fresh water feeds our rivers and oceans. Often the people living in the area are the poorest and most disadvantaged lot . Rampant poverty, lack of resources and a growing population often forces them to adopt unsustainable farming techniques and exploitation of the land. Practices such as excessive grazing by livestock, cutting of trees for wood, and with time construction of buildings without keeping in mind the sustainable practices affects these areas in a big way. Soil erosion, landslides, incessant sudden rains creates ecological imbalances often creating havoc like the recent floods in Kashmir and Uttarakhand last year.
Nature's fury often instigated by unplanned development initiatives destroys innocent homes and lives. Another important initiative should be a comprehensive vulnerability and risk assessment process undertaken in any mountain area before embarking on all round development. This will give the authorities evidence to identify how to mainstream disaster risk into development initiatives.
A common misconception is that investing in development plans which are disaster resilient is often very expensive. But recent studies and cost benefit analysis for housing sector clearly indicates cost of building homes that can withstand floods is far lower than the cost of repairing homes that cannot stand when a flood does hit.
The floods in Jammu and Kashmir were unprecedented precisely for the lack of any preparedness and sustainable initiatives included in its development and planning stage. Kashmir once famous for its impeccable beauty, serenity and blossoming flower gardens is now a city submerged with a watery landscape with a troublesome nauseating picture of destruction along with a recurring pungent smell from heaps of decomposing trash, carcasses thousands of dead animals.
Kashmir shall overcome in years to come. But the larger question which lingers on is - Are we serious about sustainable development practices when planning the mushrooming cities in mountainous fragile ecologies?